Lady Montagu and the Dragoman. How the Smallpox Vaccine Arrived in London
Original title: Lady Montagu e il Dragomanno. Come il vaccino del vaiolo arrivò a Londra
More timely than ever, a book about the incredible adventure that brought the smallpox vaccine in Europe
This book tells the adventurous journey, from the Circassian villages to Constantinople and ultimately to London, of the practice that saved the world from the scourge of smallpox, which periodically decimated the world population until the 18th century. It retraces the battle of a woman for introducing vaccination amidst the resistance of the medical establishment, a battle that involved all the great intellectuals and adventurers of the time, from Voltaire to Casanova.
At the dawn of the 18th century, Lady Montagu arrives in Istanbul following her husband, a diplomat in charge of negotiating peace between the Habsburgs and the Ottoman Empire. She comes across Emanuel Timoni, a dragoman from Genoa, adviser and physician of the British embassy. Thanks to him she starts attending the Sultan’s harem, diving into a “One Thousand and One Nights” world. There she witnesses the ancient practice of inoculation in use among common Turkish women, consisting in infecting children with smallpox to produce a mild form of the disease, thus securing immunity. The procedure is so successful that Lady Montagu decides to have her son inoculated. Since then she will devote her life to introducing this practice in Europe. She will persuade the Princess of Wales and other European royalties to have their children vaccinated but at the same time encounter a great deal of resistance and prejudice from the “official medicine”, which will always consider vaccination a barbaric procedure, practiced mainly by women who can’t ever be doctors.
Maria Teresa Giaveri brilliantly and skillfully retraces the fascinating history of the first vaccine introduced in Europe, fiercely opposed by the medical establishment, brought up by a woman who embodied the spirit of female emancipation before the feminist movement was even conceptualized and whose tenacity saved thousands of lives.